Is it worse to lose a game or a key player? The Cubs lost both Sunday, but the Brewers’ loss to the Phillies might have been even more damaging. First the Cubs. When Alfonso Soriano pulled up lame going from first to third Sunday night at Wrigley Field, I thought his season was done — and with it that of the Cubs. It had all the looks of a torn Achilles’ tendon — a season-ending and career-threatening injury. It turned out to be a strained quadriceps muscle, meaning Soriano is out for a fortnight to a month. That’s a considerable loss for a key offensive player, but consider the plight of the Brewers. They lost Sunday in brutal fashion, blowing a 6-1 lead in the ninth inning. A couple of errors, one committed by third baseman Ryan Braun, who as I wrote fields as if he had a spatula in his left hand and not a glove, contributed to the Philadelphia rally, and the Phils went on to win 8-6 in 11 innings.
Which was worse? The Cubs lost 8-3, in the process presenting New York starter Tom Glavine with his 300th career victory — no humilation in that. And the loss of someone like Soriano frequently prompts teammates to step it up. Eric Patterson, Corey’s younger brother, joined the team today and will attempt to become another in a series of Cub rookies to make an impact this season.
True, Cub closer Ryan Dempster got lit up for the second time in a row against his old Met teammates, but the Cubs have three potential closers in waiting: Bobby Howry, Carlos Marmol, and Kerry Wood, who made his season debut in the same game Sunday night to a raucous crowd response. Compare that to the Brew crew. Bullpen closer Francisco Cordero blew the save Sunday, and nothing shatters a baseball team’s confidence faster than a bullpen that can’t hold a lead. (Just ask the White Sox.)
The Brewers still led the Cubs by a game Monday, and even as a Cubs fan I’m standing by Milwaukee as my team of destiny in the National League Central Division — though not without qualms. I said they’d be good as long as ace Ben Sheets held the pitching staff together. He went down with a strained finger, but phenom Yovani Gallardo stepped right in for him, for instance winning a pitching duel Friday. Still, that puts strain on the pitching staff — meaning no room for error should their bullpen go bad. We’ll see how the Cubs and the Brewers weather their various struggles in the coming weeks as they head toward their showdown at Wrigley Field the last week of August.